First, the Flames took all of the penalties, and it was not particularly great. Then, they scored a bunch of goals, something they failed to do the last time they took a lot of penalties (i.e. the day before). And then they got a bunch of their own powerplays to work with to close things out.
It was a weird one.
All those penalties
The Flames picked up 16 penalty minutes total, but thanks to a couple of off-setting calls, only had to kill off seven powerplays.
You know, only. With five coming in the first period.
Taking penalty after penalty after penalty so early in the game the very day after penalties helped sink them was an interesting strategy, and had the chance to backfire early. Honestly, it should have: I lost count of how many goals would have been easy tap-ins for the Canucks if they hadn’t simply missed or bungled them.
The Flames have now taken 34 penalties this season, tied for second most in the NHL with the Predators (who have played one less game), and behind the Penguins who lead with 37. This, however, isn’t new – in 2016-17, the Flames led the NHL with 378 penalties (the Ducks, with 372, came in second). So while it’s very true cutting down on infractions is an area the Flames absolutely have to work on, they don’t exactly have a history under Glen Gulutzan hinting at being able to fix it.
Also: Gulutzan’s Dallas Stars, in the 2011-12 season, were fourth in the league in penalties taken with 407. In the 2013 lockout year, they dropped to fifth in the NHL, with 241. I’m not sure if there’s a relationship between a team’s penalties and its head coach – that’ll have to be a project for another time – but hopefully this year, everything gets figured out.
In the meantime, beware of early sample sizes, but the Flames currently have the fifth best penalty kill in the NHL at 89.6%, so at least there’s that.
Also: Bennett’s second penalty of the night wasn’t a bad one to take; letting Alexander Burmistrov hang out in front of the net with the puck isn’t likely to end well. Johnny Gaudreau’s penalty was just, what. And faceoff violations… I don’t see how this improves the game, but sure.
Flames now outshooting #Canucks 3-1 on VAN PP tonight
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) October 15, 2017
And they outscored them, too.
Dougie Hamilton had two goals, and had four shots on net.
Mark Giordano had a goal, and had four shots on net.
Travis Hamonic had a goal, and had a shot on net.
T.J. Brodie had an assist, and had a shot on net.
Hamonic’s career high in points is 33, while Brodie’s is 45, Hamilton’s is 50, and Giordano’s 56. If not this season, we’ll probably see Hamilton take over as the points leader from the blueline soon, and we know Giordano can be good for it (and playing alongside someone like Hamilton will no doubt help).
The other two are a little less certain when it comes to scoring. Brodie is obviously capable of coming close to 50, but that was when he was partnered with Giordano; now that that’s no longer the case, just how much he’s capable of scoring from the second pairing is a big question (though his shots on the season pale in comparison to the top pairing’s, he does look like he belongs a little more on the top powerplay unit). Hamonic is more than worth the acquisition cost if he allows Brodie to score more, with the added bonus of him probably being good for at least 20 points.
Point being: offence from the blueline was always going to be a staple of this team. It’s been that way for some time now, and this is the best top four they’ve assembled in a while. What a great start.
It is really, really difficult to get a handle on the lines – any lines, really – when roughly eight billion penalties are called in a single game. To that end, analyzing who played with who is nigh impossible, because we ended up with weird combinations all night long thanks to those special team messes.
Jaromir Jagr is always going to be a point of contention, though. And he has yet to fully settle in on one specific line. So let’s make an exception for him, and go there.
At 5v5, Jagr split his time almost perfectly between Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Kris Versteeg, give or take three seconds. Both the top line and the third line appear to be equally in play, and right now, the top line is winning – though the significantly greater offensive zone starts (80% to 33.33%) may have something to do with that.
Perhaps the focus is a little less on “who should Jagr be playing with” and more on “whoever is getting the most offensive zone starts, that’s Jagr’s line”. And typically, it’s Gaudreau’s line getting the offensive zone starts. So maybe, once Jagr is ready, that should be his line after all. We know he has it in him – not just because he’s, well, Jaromir Jagr, but also because that’s exactly what he was doing in Florida half a year ago.
There’s also the matter of his first point as a Flame. It came on the powerplay; after Monahan, Gaudreau, and Versteeg, Jagr was the most-used forward on the man advantage. It should probably be kept that way.
Not signing Jagr until the season started has hurt, but he’s making noticeable positive strides now. Jagr in mid-season form playing alongside Gaudreau and Monahan could be really special.
Shoutout to Smith, again
The Flames didn’t need Smith to stand on his head this time around, but he did it anyway. This time, they actually scored goals for him, and unlike the Winnipeg game, they got out ahead first. He had the opportunity to take things a bit easier in this one, especially seeing as how he only had 29 shots to deal with instead of the usual 40+, and his defence did a great job blocking shots (nine via Giordano and Hamonic) and boxing out the Canucks.
See? Shots are going down. Hooray!
But still – and I’m not sure if this is going to be an every game thing with him – Smith made a handful of big, flashy saves that were particularly prominent as the Canucks appeared to be pressing. Hamonic got them the lead back; Smith made a big save, Hamilton scored to increase that lead. It’s probably different if Smith doesn’t make that save.
Smith has a .900+ save percentage in four of the six games he’s played this season. That’s not bad at all.
I also wanted to note that in post-game comments this is twice now I’ve heard Gulutzan talk about how Smith’s puck-handling helps reduce wear and tear for the defencemen. This time around, he said that was a factor considered in deciding to start Smith back-to-back… which does pose a question or two of just how many times they plan to start him, and in what situations Eddie Lack will draw in.
Four days off for some reason now
Yeah I don’t know either.
But as we wait for the rest of the Pacific Division to catch up in games played, the Flames are currently in the top spot with a 4-2 record. They are there in part because they are presently 3-1 against their own division. Last season, they were 13-13-3 against it. A better record probably means home ice advantage in the playoffs, and in facing four divisional opponents within the first two weeks, they needed a good start against them.
They got it.